Tag Archives: Gerald Brenan

Travels in Spain – Andalucía, Mountain Roads, Brigands and Wolves

Tolcar Rock Formations

“However our friend soon brightened up again and, in answer to my inquiries, told me that the picture that the doctor had drawn of the brigands in the Sierra Morena was greatly exaggerated: they had been a nuisance some time before, but were now of very little consequence. And they rarely killed anyone.” – Gerald Brenan

It was raining again the next morning but it looked brighter towards the east where we were heading and so we didn’t loiter too long after breakfast and made our way out of Ronda towards our next destination, Antequera, about fifty miles away on the road to Granada.

We avoided the direct route and instead took a minor road across the dusty plain towards the town of Campillos which was a place that we never arrived at because a few miles short of the town we took a detour towards a national park and a series of reservoirs.  We climbed steadily towards a viewing opportunity and then descended just as quickly to the shoreline of the curiously turquoise waters of the lakes.

There are three reservoirs here – Guadalhorce and Guadalteba and Gaitanejo and we drove a few miles around the perimeter of one of them, I cannot be sure which and then we came to a road junction with Antequera signposted in two alternative directions.

Spain Reservoir

We (I) chose the right fork option and quite quickly left the main highway and came across a very minor unpaved road.  This was the point at which sensible motorists with a rental car would surely turn back but rather foolishly we (I) carried on.  I kept convincing myself that we (I) could turn around any time we (I) chose but instead we just keep going, higher and higher into the mountains and soaring now like eagles above the reservoirs below.

When you make this sort of decision there comes a point where turning back ceases to be an option for fear of forgetting the way back and after we (I) had reached that watershed there was no option but to just keep driving.

It was very remote up here, a boulder strewn landscape brutally assaulted by the wind and the frequent squally showers.  This it seemed to me was Brigand territory and I drove on half expecting that at any moment a grizzled highwayman with a shotgun and a leather cartridge belt slung across each shoulder would step out into the road, raise his weapon and bid me stop, relieve me of my wallet and quite likely drive off with the car (luckily I had paid for full insurance by the way).

Spain Wolf

The fear of Brigands however swiftly evaporated when we stopped the car for a moment to enjoy the view and a faded sign that had been used for shotgun target practice at the side of the road warned that we were now in an area of special protection for wolves and that we should be alert to the danger.  Be Alert! Be Alert!  I should say so and we retreated to the car as quickly as possible, checked our underpants and made sure the doors and windows were firmly closed.  Now, I am all for supporting wildlife and the reintroduction of endangered species but I am not sure about wolves and that isn’t just because I don’t like dogs, wolves tear people into shreds and eat them don’t they?

Eventually after about ten miles or so we came to a junction and joined another road that didn’t provide a great deal of improvement but at least it was paved and it had an official number which immediately calmed my shattered nerves.

Antequera Map

Just a few miles out of Antequera we came across signs for a nature reserve, El Torcal de Antequera and as it was still quite early we made a detour to make a visit.

El Torcal, it turned out, is a unique limestone landscape where a series of fractures, cracks and faults have been sculptured by erosion to provide impressive columns of rocks not dissimilar to the sort of towers of stones that people build on beaches. The blocks of stone have been subjected to both dissolution by water and freeze-thaw splitting action which, working on the limestone’s horizontal beds, resulted in the various shapes scattering the landscape that we were able to see today.

Tolcar Antequera Rocks

People come here on coach trips that take several hours but it was cold and windy and we found that about half an hour or so was long enough to enjoy the unique natural environment of the park and shortly after we left we were approaching our destination of Antequera.

Generally, we like to pick out a new, non-tourist place to stay when we visit Spain so we had no real idea what to expect…

… We certainly didn’t expect it to be so difficult to navigate and it took several attempts to find our hotel located right in the centre of the busy city and then to find somewhere safe to leave the car while we checked in.

The hotel offered secure parking facilities in a garage nearby but this was rather tricky to find as well and when I eventually did so parking was so cramped and difficult that after I had manoeuvred into a very tight spot I was absolutely certain that I do not have the skills to get the car back out again and that I might have to spend the rest of my life in Antequera and at this point I wasn’t sure that this was such a good thing!

Have you ever been lost when driving in a foreign country?

Antequera_Alcazaba

Travels in Spain – Andalucía

Andalusia Postcard

“History lies underground.  On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark wine, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song”  –  Christopher Howse,  ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try to help me to understand something  the country that I was visiting.

With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometres Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.

Spain is also a country of different people and the description ‘Spaniard’ it seems is just a convenient way of bundling them all together.  Richard Ford was a nineteenth century English traveller  and in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Spain’, published in 1845 acknowledged now as one of the very first travel guides, was one of the first to identify that  ‘Spain is a bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand’,  and oh, what a wonderful strap-line that is.

Gerald Brenan in ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ similarly observed ‘In what we may call its normal condition Spain is a collection of small, mutually hostile or indifferent republics held together in a loose federation’.

Spain Iconic Image Bull

Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.

Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.  As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European.   Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.

Spain is placed twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is twenty-first in the OECD Better Life Index and sixty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is twenty-one places behind the United Kingdom, fourteen ahead of Australia and three ahead of Canada and way in front of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth. Donald Trump will no doubt sort that out!

Andalusia Postcard 2

Spain has forty-seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country.  Prior to this trip I had visited twenty-two (follow this link for the full list) and this time I was going to add the Alhambra at Granada.

Spain is one of only two countries (the other is Morocco) with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast-line and has more Blue Flag Beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coast. the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.

On this visit we planned to visit some of the beaches on the famous Costa del Sol.

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.   Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty-four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.

Spain has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest fifty-five times since making its debut in 1961, where they finished ninth. Since 1999, Spain is one of the ‘Big Five’, along with France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, who are automatically allowed to participate in the final because they are the five biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. It has won the contest twice, first in 1968 with the unimaginatively titled song “La, la, la” and again in 1969, when “Vivo Cantando” was involved in a four-way tie.  The country finished last with “Nul points” in 1962, 1965 and 1983, and then finished last for a fourth time in 1999.

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

Andalucia Post Card